candlestick

August-December 1842


The Collected Letters, Volume 15


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TC TO THOMAS ERSKINE ; 22 October 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18421022-TC-TE-01; CL 15: 138-139


TC TO THOMAS ERSKINE

Chelsea: October 22, 1842.

I wish all men knew and saw in very truth, as Emerson does, the everlasting worth, dignity, and blessedness of work. We should then terminate our Fox-hunting, Almacking,1 Corn-lawing, and a variety of other things! For myself, I feel daily more and more what a truth there is in that old saying of the monks, Laborare est orare [to work is to pray]. I find really that a man cannot make a pair of shoes rightly unless he do it in a devout manner; that no man is ever paid for his real work, or should ever expect or demand angrily to be paid; that all work properly so called is an appeal from the Seen to the Unseen—a devout calling upon Higher Powers; and unless they stand by us, it will not be a work, but a quackery.

Perhaps I should tell you, withal, that a set of headlong enthusiasts have already risen up in America who, grounding themselves on these notions of Emerson, decide on renouncing the world and its ways somewhat in the style of the old eremites of the Thebaid;2 and retire into remote rural places to dig and delve with their own hands, ‘to live according to Nature and Truth,’ and for one thing eat vegetables only. We had a missionary of that kind here—a man of sincere convictions, but of the deepest ignorance, and calmly arrogant as an inspired man may be supposed to be—on the whole, one of the intensest bores I have ever met with.3 He made no proselytes in this quarter; but the spiritual state of New England as rendered visible through him was very strange to me. …

I had three days of riding excursion into Oliver Cromwell's country. I smoked a cigar on his broken horseblock in the old city of Ely, under the stars, beside the graves of St. Mary's Churchyard. I almost wept to stand upon the very flagstones under the setting sun where he ordered the refractory parson, ‘Leave off your fooling, and come out, sir!’ Alas! he too! was he paid for his work?

Do not ask me whether I yet write about Oliver. My deep and growing feeling is that it is impossible. The mighty has gone to be a ghost, and will never take body again.4